OPINION: For HBCUs, Proposals Show Hillary Clinton is the Only Choice

By: Donnovon L. Outten, Ed.D. and Adriel Hilton, Ph.D.

By: Donnovon L. Outten, Ed.D. and Adriel Hilton, Ph.D.

If only life were as simple as sitting on the front porch with a friend, or by a cozy fire with a glass of brandy, enjoying a leisurely game of chess. In fact, in this election cycle, the nominees of both parties make the issue of college affordability seem just that easy — but, it’s not.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump criticized colleges and universities with huge endowments for administrative “bloat” earlier this month. He suggested that instead of paying private-equity fund managers exorbitant fees, these funds should be used for student loans, tuition, and student life. He also endorsed income-based loan repayment — not a new idea, as it is already an existing federal government strategy.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s has proposed to make in-state public higher education free for students with a family income of up to $125,000, while genuinely courting young African-American voters and wanting to revamp support for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Clinton has long promoted the income-based loan repayment option.

As educators, we are fully aware that college enrollment and ultimately graduation — unlike black and white chess pieces — is not that clear cut and definitely not based solely on affordability. A successful college experience also includes choosing the right size of college, whether it’s private or public, and must figure in the degrees offered, class sizes and demographics.

As Black educators, this editorial would also like to include the factor of enrollment, retention, and diversity trends of minority students at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) versus HBCUs, particularly, in light of one candidate’s racially charged oratory throughout his campaign.

Students want to feel a sense of community and belonging and interact with staff and faculty that look like them, and the fact is that for PWIs to attract and retain minority students at their institutions, they must invest in these individuals. African American students reported that discrimination, isolation, and a lack of support services served as a distraction to learning. For Hispanic college students, family was described as a source of support and encouragement, while also placing extra pressure on these students by telling them dropping out is not an option.

Student demonstrations at PWIs such as University of Missouri, Towson University, University of California and Yale in recent years substantiate the need for institutions to have an increased comprehension of the causes of racially tense campus environments.

While the Democratic nominee’s current financial strategy of college affordability may have some merit — the Trump University dispute notwithstanding — Trump’s distinct racially biased history proves he would not be sympathetic to the above theory. Why not? Studies show African American students who attended a PWI need the following to enhance retention: a) the development of special support programs for African American students, b) diversity training for all faculty and staff, c) hiring additional African American faculty and staff, d) increased faculty-student interaction, e) the initiation of a counseling program specifically for African American students, and f) opportunities to assist in planning campus programs.

If Trump were elected president, who would support the much needed state and federal backing for these programs? Without support, minority students will indeed get left behind.

While Clinton has made promises about college affordability, free college might be a bit of an overstatement and not easily accomplished. On the other hand, her campaign has at least made a concerted effort to be inclusive by holding rallies at HBCUs. Clinton is also endorsing more federal funds for minority-serving institutions, while assisting minority students with voter registration and encouraging a sizable voter turnout at these events.

It would appear that Clinton understands the importance of HBCUs in the overall higher education system which is the desire of their students to seek “African American roots” and cultural awareness.

Stanley Kubrick said it best: “You sit at the board and suddenly your heart leaps. Your hand trembles to pick up the piece and move it. But what chess teaches you is that you must sit there calmly and think about whether it’s really a good idea or whether there are other better ideas.”

Let’s hope that the conversation about higher education and college affordability doesn’t end with this election. Let’s hope that we have a Madame President who can bring even better ideas on how to retain and graduate all of our talented, brilliant young Americans from college in the future, regardless of gender or race.

Donavan Outten, Ed.D. is the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Webster University. Adriel A. Hilton, Ph.D. is the Director, Myrtle Beach Metropolitan Campus Webster University